Last year when my 87-year old Dad had to stay in the hospital for a while, I stayed at my parents’ house to help out. They still live in the same house where I grew up, and I visit frequently, but it is always a rather strange feeling to be in that old neighborhood again. I walk down the same street where I played as a child, a place full of so many memories, but I’m a stranger to the current residents of these homes.
There’s “the Kelly’s house,” which hasn’t had a Kelly in it for many years. “The Kaiser’s house” is next door, where I spent many a day playing with the girls who were my age. Next to that, “the Langholtz’s house,” where Ernie Langholtz had the most amazingly overstuffed garage full of … what? Hard to say, but there were boxes and yard tools, and sleds, and everything looking as if it would collapse at any moment. We always tried to catch a glimpse of his hand with the two missing fingers. Right or left, I don’t remember now. But supposedly the fingers were lost in a parachuting accident during WWII. Or was that just a Boo Radley-esque childhood story? One made up to make an otherwise dull street seem exciting?
None of the people in these houses today know me. Which is strange, because I know their backyards intimately. I know their basements. I know the best way to cut through the alley to get home before it gets dark. I know which of their (now ghostly) dogs will jump out and bark as I pedal my green Schwinn Stingray with the banana seat past their fence.
Last year when I was staying there, I also knew that the quickest way to walk to the subway station to get to work was to cut through some backstreets. On that walk, I encountered the best place to roll Osage oranges down the hill, from the top of Park Road. My Dad and I had done that once when I was a child. I don’t know why we were walking on that road, or whether anyone else was with us. But I remember my Dad picking up the orange and rolling it like a bowling ball. He’s a tall man, six foot five. He never considered himself particularly athletic, but I remember him moving gracefully, his long arm stretching out as he released the orange. The road slopes down and curves to the left – the trick is to keep it in the middle of the road so that it doesn’t get blocked by a parked car or bounce over the curb. He showed me that.
All of this I remembered last year as I reached down to pick up the bright green orb. I’m sure someone was watching me from a window somewhere – it’s that kind of neighborhood now – and I’m sure they thought “What an odd thing to do.” But I rolled the orange down the hill, and I rolled it good. I watched it make its way around the curve in the road before bouncing against the curb and up into the air. It landed with a soft thud in the patch of grass next to the sidewalk. I smiled and continued on my way to work, taking the same route my father had used for decades. I wonder if he ever paused to roll an orange in the morning. I hope so.